**½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras A-
starring Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, Saffron Burrows
screenplay by Tom Stoppard, based on the novel by Robert Harris
directed by Michael Apted
by Walter Chaw The easy thing to say is that the Mick Jagger-produced Enigma is enigmatic--it's more difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why. Stars Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, and Jeremy Northam are fine, Tom Stoppard's screenplay would on the surface surely seem fine, and Michael Apted's polished, if unremarkable, direction is the very definition of just fine. So the onus must fall on the material adapted, Robert Harris's follow-up to his much-lauded Fatherland, which promised a Ken Follett romantic espionage page-burner while delivering a staid and occasionally incomprehensible period bodice-ripper crushed under the dual gorgons of the sophomore jinx and the Tom Clancy "guess I'm not very good at dialogue" bogey. Enigma's problems begin and end with its inability to overcome the essential faults of its inherited plot, its most interesting aspect--WWII cryptologists at London's Bletchley Park--subsumed by a run-of-the-mill mystery and a never-in-doubt love story. It appears the curse of many historical fictions that attempt to familiarize the "long ago" with a "universal" romantic story arc dooms Enigma's period and historical detail to function as mere decorative flourish.
Jericho (Scott) is a beautiful mind walled-off from his emotions. A genius-level mathematician recruited by British Intelligence to break the German "Enigma" code, we learn through flashbacks that Jericho has already cracked one iteration of the cipher and that the task has given him a nervous breakdown. Further flashbacks reveal that a romance with skeletal Claire (Saffron Burrows) may be the real reason behind his temporary madness. Safe to say that breaking down walls, symbolic and literal, and deciphering difficult conundrums are point, device, and metaphor in Enigma. Meanwhile, in the present, Jericho and Claire's roommate, Hester (Winslet), work together to solve the mystery of Claire's recent disappearance, outwit persistent investigator Wigram (Northam), and save Allied shipping lanes from Nazi U-Boat wolf packs.
The mention of Follett is apt, since Enigma takes on the derring-do and U-Boat climax of Eye of the Needle, the gender and archetype dynamic of The Key to Rebecca, and even the strong female presence of Jackdaw. Saying that a film honours one of our finest period-thriller writers (particularly the era of WWII) is not a damnation to be certain, but Enigma fumbles its borrowed strengths badly. For as good as Winslet, Scott, and Northam are in their dedicated performances and skilful line interpretations (Winslet and Northam are especially up to Stoppard's twisting prose), nothing can completely obscure the fact of Enigma's rambling focus.
A scene wherein the code-breakers "sacrifice" a lost convoy for communications intercepts from the attacking U-Boats is handled well, as is an interrogation of Jericho conducted by the needling Wigram--they're executed with such aplomb, in fact, that the picture's narrative conveniences and wordy laziness are all the more disappointing. Enigma's bittersweet ending in particular stinks of a kind of serendipity as all plotlines (global and contiguous) converge in a peculiarly ramped-up false closer while its Misery-like epilogue is more tiresome than poignant. Enigma is elevated by its dialogue and performances nevertheless done in by the weakness of its source material and the inability to locate the unique interest at the centre of its tale. A final title card revealing that the heroics of the code-breakers at Bletchley remained a secret for decades after the war rings with a certain irony, as Enigma isn't about Bletchley Park either, you see. It's the story of a geek who fell for a beauty before settling for a plucky nerd of his feather. Originally published: April 19, 2002.
by Bill Chambers You may ask yourself why Columbia TriStar is releasing a film that didn't perform like gangbusters at the box office on DVD for the second time within a year in a Special Edition form. I believe the short answer is that the previous disc's transfer was disastrous (never saw), so, y'know, "As long as we're remastering it, might as well throw in some bonus features." The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of the SE is handsome and crystalline, with edge-enhancement apparently much toned-down from what witnesses to the previous platter are used to. This is a bright film that docks smoothly on the format, and the colours are subdued without seeming muted. The included English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix does the trick, spreading John Barry's score strategically across the soundstage and legitimizing with a sonic kick some pretty feeble-looking CGI explosions.
Director Michael Apted offers a film-length commentary that's a good source for production backstory, with Apted even pointing out where a scene's dialogue was tailored to undo the revisionist history of U-571. "Putting It All Together" (21 mins.) finds interviewee Mick Jagger (Enigma's co-producer) wearing a British Navy uniform for no discernible reason, although neither this nor a valuable discussion of the thinking behind Dougray Scott's casting change the fact that this making-of is drier than a rice cake. The more involving "Bletchley Park and Enigma" (18 mins.) contains a great anecdote from Kate Winslet (in full Hester costume), who recounts on behalf of a Bletchley "survivor" the toll of anonymity on code-breakers, while technical advisor Tony Sale summarizes the inner-workings of the Enigma machine for our benefit--a device Scott insists he now knows how to use. ("Everybody claims to understand it," responds Jagger through clever editing.) A section of three shockingly integral deleted scenes (the reappearance of a pivotal character and the ripple effect it causes, which has been excised from the finished film with alarming seamlessness) plus filmographies and trailers for Enigma, Das Boot, and Apted's Enough (also recently reissued in a Special Edition--to what end?) close the book on this fan-pleasing Enigma DVD. Originally published: September 23, 2003.